Not long ago, I was researching a company with whom I might do some business and, as is the case so often with social media, I ended up down a rabbit hole of tangential information. Somehow, at one point, I found myself on the personal Facebook page of the CEO. He was wearing a red baseball cap that said:
“Make America Great Again”
That moment affected my decision (although which way I will not disclose.), The moment serves as a reminder that social media generally, and Facebook specifically, is a public, not a private, place.
Most importantly for our purposes, you better be darned sure that you want to publicly wade into the political and cultural wars that divide our country these days because if you do, you will surely evoke a strong response one way or another.
Now, maybe you are thinking that politics and small business don’t mix, and if so, I agree. People frequent your business because you provide products or services they like. My take is that they don’t really care what you think, and in fact, in this era of divided politics, I suggest what you think has more risk of doing harm than good.
But guess what? We may be wrong.
According to Forbes, a recent survey of U.S. consumers found that an amazing two-thirds say “they want brands to engage in social and political issues.” That number goes even higher for younger consumers, those 18-34 years old – 73 percent of millennials want brands to speak up.
But here’s the rub: That same survey found more than half (52 percent) of respondents would show greater brand loyalty if they agreed with the brand’s position while even more (53 percent) said if they disagree with the brand’s position on an issue, they would frequent the brand less with a sizable minority stating they would publicly criticize the brand.
Given that sobering news, while consumers might want brands to speak up, there is a lot of risk for those that do. And yet, even so, there is also clearly a lot of pressure these days on businesses to take a stand. It might be a faction of employees who want their voices heard, or maybe some customers who feel strongly about an issue.
So, what do you do? How can you take a stand in an era of highly partisan politics? Here are a few tips that might help:
1. Pick your battles: Supporting a politician, opposing a politician, whatever, is just too risky. The possibility of angering your customers is too high with, as I said, little payoff. Unless supporting a candidate or party is mostly a no-brainer for your small business, the general rule is to leave this area alone.
Better: Choose to support an issue that resonates with you, your business and/or your clientele. Choosing an issue that aligns with the values of your business can help reinforce your brand. An outdoor travel company can safely champion environmental causes without wading into the political battles of the day.
2. Be a uniter not a divider: We all know what the hot-button topics are, and again, the problem is, if you play with those issues you can get burned.
A better strategy for the business that wants to get involved is to pick an issue not as polarizing. A topic that aligns with your values and which people generally support allows you to do good while minimizing the risk of alienating key customers.
Example: In the past decade, Coca-Cola expanded its giving portfolio beyond educational causes to include access to safe drinking water and healthy living across the globe. To illustrate, Coke supports the Global Environment and Technology Foundation’s work in Africa to “replenish water sources and improve access to safe drinking water.”
World NGO Day can be a first step for small businesses wanting to support a social cause.
3. Go incognito: If you really feel the need to share your political views, do what a pal of mine recently did. He created a new Twitter account, an incognito one, and uses it to rage against the other political team.
And no one knows that he owns the small business down the street.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success.© Steven D. Strauss.
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